By Barry Rubin
Why might Syria or Iran attack Israel? Obviously that is impossible to predict, but here is an indication.
The traditional pattern has been that Israel is attacked when the perpetrator wants to mobilize international Arab support. The idea is that Arabs, no matter what their citizenship, would cheer the assault. Indeed, even Persians, Turks, and others would do so. And hence lies international political profit. This was originally illustrated by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt in the 1950s and has been shown many times since.
But not always. It has failed many times, increasingly in recent years, for example, with Syria in the 1982 Lebanon war or in Iraq in the 1991 Kuwait war. Then again, it has also yielded no real material help.
The Israel card has just not worked any more in Middle Eastern policies .
This is, of course, mainly true for strategic direct attacks, not those shadowy terrorist groups, but that limits attacks as well. And now Hizballah, an open ally of Syria, has come out as a strategic factor, a semi-state actor no longer covered by its historic designation. Hizballah d0es not want to set off a Hizballah-Israel war when it is already under intensive criticism and military pressure because of fighting in an anti-Sunni war killing that community’s people in Syria.
Some reasons are that while aggressive Arab states or Iran–as well as radical Islamism–have increasingly threatened Arab states and populations, this set up a cross-cutting factor. It was far from the only issue. Admit it or not, there were far more considerations at play.
Now what would the Syrian side gain for targeting Israel? No Sunni Muslim will leap to the defense of the Bashar al-Assad or the Iranian region as a result! The Israel card is useless, and everyone in the region knows this.
So why do these threats endure? Simple. To scare the West or Israel so as to intimidate them into doing what the aggressors want them to do, a bogey-man.
The Iranians won’t attack Israel because it would be so difficult for them to do, and it would unleash a full-scale confrontation with the Unites States that will gain them nothing. The same is true for Syria,which would guarantee to make the United States seek regime change in Damascus and make it far harder to win the civil war. The most likely attack would be by Hizballah with rockets.
And thus, it may contribute to a state or regime’s defensive strategy so it can go on, so to speak, committing aggression in peace.
Of course if the bluff is called and if the aggressor added onto the attack, it would achieve far more damage to the attacker with no real benefit. Will such an operation contribute to Assad winning the civil war or surviving? Of course not.
So these threats should be laughed at–no matter that the threats must be prepared for carefully–and the response would be: You and what army?
But one can also ask this: In the face of such bumbling American behavior, what possible credibility can be put on Obama Administration guarantees to Israel? Remember that the side Obama supports includes al-Qaida which is firing rockets into Israel even as America ponders an attack on the Syrian regime! For the first time, America is objectively a co-belligerent with a force actively attacking Israel!
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.